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New things
Technology, science, engineering

5 May 2021

Wizard of O`z
Amanda Lacaze, an Australian mining millionaire, is poised to make more millions with the world’s largest new neodymium mine outside China. Neodymium is a rare earth needed in cell phones, EVs, wind turbines and most modern weapons systems. China’s had a lock on the world’s rare earth supplies since Deng Xiaoping started a drive to mine and stockpile them in the 1980s. But Western Australia has plenty of them underground. Lacaze’s firm has a contract with the US Department of Defense to boost its non-Chinese supply, and the WSJ has a great short film explaining, among other things, that rare earths tend to come out of the ground together; a whole section of the periodic table in one hugely lucrative seam of ore. 

4 may 2021

Apple v everyone
Apple is currently engaged in two significant fights: on one hand, it is (broadly speaking) a goody in the fight against Facebook. It is using its market position to make it harder for Facebook, in particular, to track users’ movements. On the other hand, it is using the same oligopolist position to demand that companies wanting to deploy their software on Apple phones can only do so if they use Apple’s payment systems. Epic, a games company, sought to circumvent this – and were booted from their App store. A court case on Apple’s strategy started yesterday

30 april 2021

Walk on
A spectacular new suspension bridge has opened in northern Portugal, for pedestrians only. Half a kilometre long and up to 175 metres above ground, it’s the longest bridge of its kind in the world and, at least in conventional bridge-functionality terms, connects nowhere to nowhere. It links one scenic overlook in the Arouca Geopark, east of Porto, to another. Arouca, population around 22,000, is the nearest town, but it’s a two-mile walk away. It cost €2.3 million and took three years to build. It costs €12 to walk across. It wobbles. An early user called it an adrenaline rush. It’s a lot of engineering to put in a tranquil place, but maybe walkers are due some of the attention lavished on motorists down the decades. 

29 april 2021

Apple doesn’t fall
No real surprise that Apple’s first quarter results beat expectations and the company is now forecasting a full-year profit of $70 billion (roughly equivalent to the GDP of Ghana) on revenues that could approach that of Finland. Their latest iPhone is selling like there weren’t already plenty to choose from, and we’re just computers with bags of organic matter attached now, after all. But I was struck by the WSJ’s coverage ($) of the results, which broke out figures (healthy, of course) for “Greater China”. Ugh. This has been Apple’s umbrella term for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan for several years, but still. Taiwan is an independent democratic country and at some point western corporates may have to check their consciences. 

28 april 2021

Battery boosters and shorters
We are not there yet, technologically, with EVs. The cars are cool and sales are up but battery packs are still way too expensive and if you’re on a long trip they take too long to charge. A new battery that genuinely matches a petrol tank for range and recharge time is still the holy grail. QuantumScape, based in San Jose but in bed with VW, hinted last year that it solved the problem. Then sceptics piled in, called it a scam and shorted its stock. Now its founder and CEO has told Bloomberg he might be willing to let an independent lab give his cells a once-over. If that happens and they do what is claimed, the revolution is truly nigh.